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[GreenYes] life cycle analyses of recycling versus disposal

It?s been a number of weeks since the posting in which John Reindl
referenced life cycle work I?ve been doing on recycling versus disposal.
Better late than never I thought I?d give reference to where you can find
this work and briefly indicate its content. Here?s a link to my most recent
peer-reviewed article on recycling versus disposal: . The
title is ?Comparative LCAs for curbside recycling versus either landfilling
or incineration with energy recovery?, and the journal is The International
Journal of Life Cycle Assessment, Vol. 10, No.4, July 2005.

The main additional work I?ve done since that 2005 article has been to more
accurately assess the monetary value of the pollution prevention benefits of
recycling, and to begin to assess the life cycle environmental benefits of
composting versus disposal, as well as the life cycle benefits/costs of
various methods for managing construction and demolition waste.

I gave a talk at the BioCycle conference in Portland this past March on some
of my initial findings on the latter two topics. The PowerPoint
presentation ? Life Cycle Analysis of Yard, Food, and Wood Waste Management
Options ? is available at our website
<> , along with the InLCA journal article. There
you can also find an earlier peer-reviewed article on the energy
conservation benefits of recycling ? ?Recycling versus incineration: an
energy conservation analysis? ? that appeared in the May 1966 Journal of
Hazardous Materials. It?s reproduced in the February, March and April 2000
editions of The Monthly UnEconomist available through our website.

My most recent estimate of the monetary value of the pollution benefits from
a ton of the typical mix of materials collected through curbside recycling
is $512. This value comes about through the emissions reductions from
recycling as compared with landfilling or incineration, even when either
disposal option implements energy recovery.

This recent estimate compares with the estimate of less than $100 per ton
that was the basis for the environmental valuations discussed in the InLCA
article. The substantial increase is primarily due to the inclusion of
three more environmental impacts ? human diseases caused or aggravated by
criteria air pollutants, human diseases caused by toxic emissions, and
ecological damages to flora and fauna caused by toxic emissions. The InLCA
article evaluated only greenhouse gas emissions, acidifying emissions, and
eutrophication emissions. The fivefold increase is also due in smaller part
to the increase in estimates of the costs of greenhouse gas emissions and
acidification emissions. For example, the 2006 clearing price on US EPA?s
annual auction of SO2 emissions permits under the Clean Air Act was $690 per
ton, versus $260 per ton based on clearing prices in previous auctions which
I used as the acidification cost in the InLCA article.

Another interesting result of this recent valuation information is that
recycling glass back into glass containers has a pollution prevention value
of $284 per ton recycled while recycling glass into aggregate has a
pollution prevention value of just $22 per ton recycled. That?s a
difference to keep in mind when evaluating the cost savings of commingled
collection if such a collection system results in a serious decrease in the
amount of recycled container glass that is available for glass container

Finally, I?ve recently come across a life cycle analysis of recycling versus
disposal for the Netherlands. It?s quite interesting because it estimates
that on a full societal life cycle cost basis recycling beats both landfill
and incineration with energy recovery, even in a densely populated country
where there are a number of waste-to-energy facilities. You can find this
article at:
7ef56ce62d1671f1cce where it is published in the peer-reviewed Ecological
Economics journal. Fortunately you can get the draft version of that
published article for free at: .

The debate about waste-to-energy is heating back up ? ?déjà vu all over
again? ? and I?m hoping the various materials referenced above will assist
with elucidating the economic and environmental downsides to the
incineration/gasification/pyrolysis hyperbole that?s afoot once again in our

Jeffrey Morris, Ph.D.-Economics

Sound Resource Management

2217 60th Lane NW

Olympia, WA 98502-0903


360-319-2391 mobile


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